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There are two kinds of albums in the unholy underworld of evil metal. The first, the kind most associate with the genre when looking at it at a glance from a considerable distance, is that which takes it upon itself to bludgeon the listener with relentless, pounding walls of sonic annihilation woven out of tremelo/blast section abuse and the like. What we have here is not one of those albums. This is an album that takes a far different approach in delivering an atmosphere of evil. This is an album that evokes images of candlelit séances and demonic visitations from the other side, hearkening from times past, when steel ruled and Venom was still the world's most brutal band. This is Melissa, Mercyful Fate's first full-length release, an album that has survived to this writing without aging a day, no worse for wear. These seven tracks remain an icon in the metal world, and deservedly so, and anyone today that plays metal and claims to not have been influenced in some way by this album is lying to himself.
The album is eclectic in a way, showcasing all that had developed in the world of heavy metal up until its release. 1983, the year this unholy septet of malevolence was unleashed unto this mortal world, was situated in the center of a crossroads for the genre. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands, which heavily influenced Mercyful Fate, were known for melodic, over-the-top, theatrical performances, complete with operatic vocals and galloping rhythms, but the doomier side of metal, every bit as archaic, plodded alongside it in bands such as Black Sabbath, Pentagram, and Witchfinder General. Punk was taking the world by a storm, with its progenitors producing their seminal works at more or less the same time as the booming British metal scene. All these influences came together, resulting in a Cambrian-explosion-like expansion of the genre into subgenre after myriad subgenre. 1983 saw the release of many such meetings of influences, including Kill 'Em All and Show No Mercy, but across the North Sea from the British scenes that proved so integral in metal's development, in the underground of Denmark, something far more sinister was brewing.
Mercyful Fate formed in 1981 out of the ashes of the bands Brats and Black Rose. The five, still very much unknown at the time, procured a human skeleton with a wound on the skull, which they named Melissa. King Diamond, the band's singer, gave Melissa a detailed back-story, and this was to become an inspiration behind much of the album. The skull was used as a stage prop before it was stolen, and the femurs were tied together to form a microphone handle. Out of these dark, underground origins arose a masterwork named and styled after that skeleton, even down to its album art, a horned skull bleeding red light to the left edge of the frame.
With all their various influences, metallic and otherwise, Mercyful Fate managed to carve out a niche all their own. To this day, only a precious few have even come close to duplicating the stylings of King and company. Chief among these stylistic qualities, and the most divisive aspect about the band among its listeners, is King Diamond. His vocals carry much of the melody of the band, through piercing falsettos enough to give Halford pause, and a more traditional midrange, alternated in adept acrobatics in a style all his own. They maneuver swiftly and independently of the guitars, emulating tortured screams and malevolent growls wherever the King deems fit. The guitars, manned by the heavily blues-influenced Hank Shermann and the more shred-happy Michael Denner, show ample technical prowess in their twin onslaught a-la-Judas Priest, ripping along at furious paces at times, and at others becoming a slower, more atmospheric element. The rhythm section is solid as well, with Timi Grabber on the bass and Kim Ruzz on the drums. Overall the musicianship on the album is second to none, and each part meshes perfectly with the others into a cohesive whole.
Melissa is among those rare albums featuring song after song filled to breaking point of amazing material, so it becomes difficult to stand out. Nearly every track on display here is top-notch material. The opening track "Evil" is perhaps the single song that best defines the band, with its name even aptly and succinctly describing their sound. It runs a mostly mid-paced course, with some of the catchiest riffs in all of metaldom, and deliciously, cheesily evil lyrics about being raised up as a zombie to engage in acts of cannibalism and necrophilia, but explodes into a tornado of solos near the end. "Satan's Fall" is a monstrous epic, comprising about a third of the album's length, with a myriad of brilliant ideas thrown into its monstrous maw, and taking the listener into a Satanic blood sacrifice with one of the King's best ever vocal performances. "At the Sound of the Demon Bell" features every bit as schizophrenic a song structure as "Satan's Fall," transitioning seamlessly between staccato verse riffs overlaid with inhumanly high wails and various choruses and soloing sections. This song also includes the single heaviest minute of music on the album, enough to give the then-fledgling Metallica and Slayer a run for their money. Just about every song here is very strong in its own way. The only track that doesn't measure up to its cohorts is "Black Funeral," a short, plodding number with some of the highest vocals on the album. It's every bit as evil and blasphemous as the most perverse of the other six, but it is shorter and more one-dimensional than the others. Still it isn't a bad song, and it shows how liable something is to be brutally scrutinized when shoved into a track listing with such legendary numbers as the others. The seven together showcase the songwriting and performing talents of the band in a multi-pronged, atmospheric onslaught of riffs and blistering solos, providing blueprints for bands later on to derive inspriation.
On the other end of the aforementioned genre crossroads is the legacy of bands such as Mercyful Fate. As the genre expanded into more and more uncharted territory, and new subgenres were created left and right to categorize the ever-increasing variety of its acts, various traits of this band, and naturally this album, began to manifest themselves in thousands of bands so lucky to have the influence of Mercyful Fate. The theatrics and strong rhythm guitar would become staples in power metal, and the riff-laden breakneck guitar work would find itself duplicated time and time again by many a thrash metal band. The album's progressive tendencies, embodied most obviously in Satan's Fall, would influence the development of progressive metal. The aesthetics and atmosphere in King Diamond's corpse paint and human-femur microphone and the lyrical evil that was nigh unrivaled in its day would later reincarnate in the infamous Norwegian black metal scene.
As for the album itself, it deserves every bit of the acclaim it gets and more, and every aspect of it exudes classic status. Even the album cover is representative of just the fit and finish one would expect from a classic of this period. It is a look into the past, but retains every bit of the impact it has on its viewers regardless of the decade, much like watching 1973's The Exorcist. It is truly a product of its time, but at the same time is ageless, and the thousands of metal bands that have fallen entranced under its spell serve as testament to that. Melissa's fleshless visage stares you down, red aura of evil emanating from her eye sockets, skeletal grip reaching out for your soul, and you are helpless against her. Give the record a spin, light some candles, and hail the King.
Perhaps the only tangible quip I could launch against Mercyful Fate's seminal debut is that, compared to the King's next six full-length records (from both Fate and his solo band), I hold Melissa in somewhat lesser regard, owed largely to the fact that the sum songwriting is marginally less infectious. Just about every stylistic die had been cast here which would serve Kim and his companions for decades hence, but in terms of sheer riffing stickiness and atmosphere, this album just doesn't have the same gallery of chops and leads as its successors. That being said, this album still deserves the forklifts of accolades dumped upon it, because Melissa remains one of the highlights of 1983. One of the better overall European metal records of the earlier 80s outside England. Heck, apart from Don't Break the Oath and the band's more divisive reunion disc In the Shadows (which I happen to favor, others not so much), it's probably the one mandatory purchase in their discography.
Melissa was actually my second exposure to Fate, having first bought the sophomore at a young age, and I admit it was underwhelming at first, if only because I had enjoyed the other tape more. But not only does this debut age well, it has managed to never accumulate much dust on its surface in going on thirty fucking years! Melissa still feels fresh and innovative, a more complex offering than what most of the group's British peers were capable of writing at the time, and also a hallmark of strong production values and deft musicianship. It might have taken time for some to adjust to King's eery and unnerving falsetto shrieks, which he lays on pretty thick throughout this, but there is no debating the amount of effort and professionalism in the compositions. Thomas Holm's cover art is remarkable, a screaming skull that bleeds hellish red light and gives a sense of sheer monument. The lyrics are maniacal blueprints for many themes Diamond would later flesh out in both his bands, with an emphasis on history, archaic horror, and occult topics fundamental to King's later pursuance of LaVeyan Satanism.
Pacing and production are key here, integrating the critical moments of atmosphere with the thundering, primal speed metal melodies and swaggering grooves that would come to define the group's sound as it supported the chilling vocals, which in metal music had simply never gone so 'over the top' without losing the gravity and impact of their subject matter. I realize that many outsiders to the band's sound, or power/heavy metal screamers in general (Halford, Dickinson, etc) must immediately find this vocal inflection comical in nature, but there was never anything remotely 'funny' about Diamond on these old Mercyful Fate records, he was a shrill specter that I took quite seriously even if I had to adjust myself to this timbre as the primary vocal tone. He's got his grittier end, mid range register also, but it's not quite so distinct. I wouldn't say that the melodies he summons up here are nearly so unforgettable as those he'd weave in later to several of the King Diamond concept albums, but for '83 this was pretty damn ambitious even when you placed it up against a record like Piece of Mind, Bark at the Moon or Balls to the Wall.
The instruments also sound stunning, with the better balance and clarity than the band's eponymous 1982 EP. Kim Jensen's drums are loaded, with a nice slap to the snare and some great reverb to the kicks that really measure off well against the guitars, though the cymbals and hi-hat seem a fraction more muffled. The bass lines are enormous and muscular when needed, like the close of "Evil" where the guitars remind me of the primary riff in Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" before that charging power metal finale; but Timi Hansen also slinks along with a creepy class through the record's more atmospheric climes. As for the guitars, they are just beyond compare, with an effectively chunky fiber to them that allows the looser, glimmering leads to wail and writhe above and really stand out. They're also incredibly busy here, constantly twisting and turning into some new 'banger of a riff and really controlling the tempo for King's lyrical tales. The leads are usually quite brief through the album, but none of the notes seem misplaced, and I'd rather a band give me some spikes of emotion and harmony rather than indulge themselves to the detriment of the songwriting.
"Curse of the Pharaohs" is a real bruiser, and one of my all time favorite Mercyful Fate tracks, but I'd have to give "Black Funeral" the pick of the litter, a thundering and frightening piece where King's voice and the triplet rhythm collide in a moonlit, haunted tower. "Satan's Fall" is the most ambitious in terms of its length and construction, with an opening segment that feels like an occult "Immigrant Song", and some grimy and shuffling riffs deeper in which are among Shermann and Denner's most inventive (Jensen also shines here with a few cadences in the bridge). That said, there's nothing here which even hinges on 'bad'. Pieces like "At the Sound of the Demon Bell" and the bluesy "Melissa" itself might not resonate with me as much as "Gypsy", "Night of the Unborn" or "A Dangerous Meeting", but they're all well written and stuffed to the ghastly gills with conscious effort and variation. Fuck, I listen to these songs now in 2012 and they still don't give me any impression of becoming 'dated', though as a huge King Diamond nutter I'm understandably biased.
No, it's not the eeriest record in the Danes' lexicon, but along with the rest of Diamond's works from '84-'90, this is well worth breaking out for another Halloween spin, since it's lyrics and concepts of witches, Satan and the restless dead make a great accompaniment to the aesthetics of the holiday. Granted, there's nothing so obviously cheesy or 'haunted house' here like you'd find on a Cradle of Filth disc, but instead more of a bite out of classic horror antiquity, a spiritual celebration of black/white films with Lugosi and Karloff. Like Dracula, The Wolfman or The Mummy is to nearly a century of film scares, this record serves as an aesthetic monument to its medium. How many heavy, power, speed, thrash, black and doom metal acts owe so very much to Mercyful Fate? The answer would be next to incalculable, so I'll just stick to 'all of them' and you can mark your own exceptions to the rule.
All these years have passed since this record came out of Denmark and kick started the career of arguably the most iconic singer in the heavy metal world. But aside from all that shit, this album simply kicks ass. Independent of the impact it made on the careers of the band members, this album is undeniably a classic. And nothing about it has changed since then. It is just as fresh and influential as ever. Even the badass cover image has aged without a wrinkle, still evil enough to have that chilling vibe but not so much that it looks like it’s trying too hard. To say the same for the tracks that dwell within....
As with the other Danish masterpiece I found perfect, I'd recommend not wasting any more time not having this album in your collection. Seven blissful, head banging, thought-provoking, shredding, scream-your-head off songs that you will LOVE. I honestly doubted I'd ever find albums I loved and thought were as perfect as Burzum's Hviss Lyset Tar Oss, but now two Danish albums have stolen my heart.
Obviously, for completely different reasons then Hviss. Let me start off with the production (but you really should be on Amazon or something right now). I have the 25th anniversary edition luckily enough, and in the in-depth liner notes they mention how they rented the nicest studio they could find, but since it was so pricey, they had to rush and record the whole album in just 11 days! But the sound does not come off as rushed, and you can really hear the quality in the sound. The guitars have enough pop and crunch and reverb all at the right moments. The vocals sound otherworldly, but are perfectly welcome to the bed of swirling riffs and solos. The bass is there for you to enjoy, but will not interrupt the love-making you'll be having with the leads and vocals. He's just there to set the mood. And the drums are not too loud, not too quiet. This album has no production faults in my opinion. Perfect production? Check.
The song arrangements are varying and awesome. The riffs are catchy, memorable, rocking, and groovy, but the guitars are ever a pair, working off of each other’s riffs and solos with plenty of riff changes, making for a very progressive listen. Satan's Fall alone has like 16 different riffs. Just check out riffs on the bridge of Evil, the chorus of Curse of the Pharaohs and At the Sound of the Demon Bell, and the intro of Satan's Fall. You want a simpler list? The riffs that don't amaze. None. We also get some cleaner bits, both quick (Into the Coven) and somber (Melissa). Perfect guitars? Check.
The bass is grooving throughout the album, and though there are no bass solos or anything, I am more than satisfied on the low end. For the majority of the album it will be there following the guitars, but also at times creating an underlying third rhythm, both blistering and groovy. There’s more bass here then on By Inheritance, and that didn’t bother me a bit on that one. Perfect bass? Check.
The drums are excellent as you can imagine. Apparently, Kim Ruzz disappeared from the metal world after the first break up. Why? I have no fucking clue. He is awesome. Solid beats, killer fills, and great power on the skins. The man is a great drummer, but he just must not have had his heart in it anymore. Shame, but his legacy will live on. Perfect drums? Check
Do I really need to describe King Diamond’s vocals and how they are amazingly great, giving this already awesome album a unique edge? Crazy falsettos and growls and operatic shrieks? Yeah, all those things right when you want them. He IS the King. Let me just say, if you don't like his rather excessive vocal style at first, keep giving it tries until you do like it. Once you get used to it, there really is no singer quite like him. His voice is exactly what this album needed to kick into the unique classic it is. Perfect vocals? Check.
His lyrics didn't hurt, either. The story of the girl who joined the witches only to be sacrificed to Satan is very interesting and entertaining. It goes much further than most metal albums in the lyrical department, plus how awesome is it to hear ALL HAIL SATAN screamed in a high-pitched falsetto? Despite how dark and compelling the lyrics are, they maintain an extreme degree of catchinessand trust me, you will be singing along in no time. And just as the end of the song says, this album will always be with us. Perfect lyrics? Check.
Any faults? No? Any bad songs? NO!? Correct. I love every second of this album. And below in the highlights I am going to mention every track just to really drive that home, but I will rank them in order of my favourites. For simple heavy metal bliss, Melissa gets the three digits that I really don't like giving out, but I cannot deny it. Or a five out of five.
Into the Coven
Curse of the Pharaohs
At the Sound of the Demon Bell
Exploding through speakers like a heavy metal blitzkrieg from hell, Mercyful Fate set turntables on fire with their debut album Melissa. With uncompromising heaviness, impressive musicianship, and shocking satanic imagery, the album became an instant hit with metal fans the world over. The powerful and sinister style the band showcased on Melissa came to define the genre of black metal and exists today as a classic example of old-school 80’s metal.
Featuring the unique vocals their corpse-painted lead singer, the great King Diamond, as well as the rapid, skillfully-executed duel guitar stylings of Hank Shermann and Michael Denner, Melissa scorched like no other and helped push forward the boundaries of extreme metal. The band had already garnered cult status among the underground metal scene with their seminal EP Nuns Have No Fun, which featured a big-titted nun nailed to a burning crucifix on the cover, but it wasn’t until Melissa that the band refined their style and gained significant popularity.
Like an explosion of thunder crashing down from the heavens, the heavy-hitting crunch of Shermann and Denner’s duel guitar assault kick-off the album opener ‘Evil’, a track that more than lives up to its name. King Diamond’s high-pitched scream soars over the opening riff, introducing the listener to his uniquely sinister vocal style in a most epic fashion. ‘Evil’ is a driving metal song that manages to be as heavy and shocking as Venom while maintaining the hard rock groove of Deep Purple. It should also be mentioned that drummer Kim Ruzz offers an absolutely frantic and pounding performance on the song that gives it an extra boost of energy. The more traditional, NWOBHM-inspired song ‘Curse of the Pharaohs’ follows, offering the listener a chance to catch their breath and immerse themselves in an ominous and wicked realm. King Diamond truly shines on this track, showing off his wide-range of vocal prowess.
The following song ‘Into the Coven’ gained notoriety in the mid-80’s when it was included on the PMRC’s hitlist of 15 songs recommended to be banned, cited for its occultism. Honestly, they chose the correct song to go after, because ‘Into the Coven’ is a powerful descent into madness, taking the listener on a ritual to sacrifice their soul to Satan. The band continue their winning streak with two more ferocious slabs of metal in ‘At the Sound of the Demon Bell’ and ‘Black Funeral’, the latter featuring perhaps King Diamond’s greatest ever vocal performance.
The epic ‘Satan’s Fall’ kicks the album up a notch in what can only be described as 11-minutes of pure Armageddon. The musicianship truly shines on this track, Shermann and Denner have a field day serving up their most devastating arsenal of riffs while the rhythm section drive the song forward with a perfect balance of power and groove. The somber and doomy ballad Melissa closes the album in a depressing way. Melissa is technically great featuring outstanding vocal melodies by King Diamond and a complex structure and musicianship, but I feel as though the album deserved a more scorching and high-energy song to close with and that Melissa should have appeared earlier on. Personal opinion aside, ‘Melissa’ is a masterfully composed and performed song by a band in their creative prime and easily holds its own among the other classics on the record.
Mercyful Fate are universally respected in the Metal community from fans across the wide spectrum of sub-genres precisely because their music features so many different elements and cannot be confined to any specific genre besides heavy fucking metal. Melissa stood out during heavy metal’s most prolific period and established Mercyful Fate as some of the most cutting edge music on the scene. The album still holds up to this day, influencing musicians and recruiting listeners to the allegiance of Satan.
Besides the original vinyl print, I recommend the 2005 Roadrunner Cd set which includes a bonus DVD and several bonus tracks one of which, Black Masses, is good enough to have been on the album itself.
These guys are a legend for a reason! Only recently I've been getting into the works King Diamond and Mercyful Fate, and I really dig what I hear. Frankly I find the Mercyful stuff to be superior if only for the darker and more metal vibe to it than King's solo metal with its hard rockish-vibed stuff. But enough about me, we're here for Mercyful Fate's "Melissa", the band's first full album after their grisly but fun 1982 self-titled EP.
This sucker just flat out rocks. It's dark, oh so evil and maddeningly catchy. First off, what can I say about King Diamond that hasn't been said 666,666 times before? Yep, he's a glorious vocalist, fully capturing all eight octaves on this album, flying from early death growls to 70's Halford-like wailing. Awesome, awesome work! Speaking of 70's, that's the vibe this whole album has despite popping up in the early 80's. From the "fuzzy", chugging guitars to folk-esque acoustic moments and the sometimes snare-heavy drumming, it feels 70's in a good way despite still packing a sonic attack. Michael Denner and Hank Shermann make for a damn solid guitar attack team, with their rushing, catchy solos and thumping semi-technicality. As with most metal albums, the bass gets buried, but Timmi "Grabber" Hansen's manages to shine here and there with it's chugging hardness, especially in songs like "Into The Coven" or "Curse of the Pharaohs". Rounding it off is Kim Ruzz drumming. He's okay. He's got a few fast fills and the like, but he's mostly just keeps the beat steady.
The seven songs on "Melissa" are pretty great in their own ways, filled with crazy good riffage, evil solos, and demonic, dark lyrics. The one-two punch of "Evil" and "Curse of the Pharaohs" start off proper, the former armed with gut-wretching speed and catchy riffage, the latter a bit more mid-paced and armed a variation on THAT riff (the one from "Swords and Tequila, "Flash-Rockin' Man", "2 Minutes to Midnight", etc). "Into The Coven" kicks it in high again with more catchy riffage and one hell of a solo. The solo in "At The Sound of the Demon Bell" is even better, getting pretty aggressive and shreddy later in the song. Quick speeder "Black Funeral" has a pretty good main riff, catchy and bouncy, but is otherwise just okay. Closer "Melissa" is a solid mid-paced masterpiece, with very emotional king vocals, great acoustic moments, and the odd heavier moment. I find the epic "Satan's Fall" to be a bit overrated. It's certainly good, but the riffs stretch on for too long and overall it just feels longer than it needs to be.
Overall, this is, for the most part, the classic people like to call it. King's amazing vox must be heard to be believed, and the catchy, strong performance of the rest of Mercyful Fate is top-notch. Highly recommended for those who dig evil but catchy occult-flavored heavy metal.
It's no secret that Mercyful Fate and specifically, the album "Melissa," are not only influential to countless bands, but also landmarks of the genre. It's inevitable that the same five albums will always appear in every publication's "Top 100 Metal Bands" list, but going beyond those albums and digging a little bit deeper will yield this gem, where nothing similar had appeared before and nothing quite like it has come around since.
The closest comparison that can be made about this album towards any band would be Judas Priest. With all due respect to the Priest, Mercyful Fate took what Priest had done in the 70s and brought it to a whole new level. Not only are the lyrics blatantly Satanic, the music sounds evil as well. The progressive tendencies of earlier Judas Priest have been taken to a whole new level as well. King Diamond is absolutely insane on vocals, going from a lower growl to a piercing falsetto whenever his black little heart desires. I once heard King Diamond's voice described as "sounding like Elmo...if Elmo was evil and going to kill you," but while the high-pitched aspect is there, I cannot help but take them seriously, thanks in part to the accompanying music.
The opener, "Evil" has one of the greatest heavy metal riffs ever written and is most likely the quintessential Mercyful Fate song. Aside from that awesome main riff, the whole song is filled with rhythm guitar parts (most likely influenced by Judas Priest and early Iron Maiden) that serve as a foundation not only for King Diamond's surprisingly infectious vocal lines, but for the plethora of (tremendous) solos that this song contains. On top of all these are lyrics about a zombie who is raised by Satan to kill a woman, and then precedes to engage in necrophilia with her corpse. Not only are these themes years ahead of their time, they're awesome and solid evidence that necrophilia is not only cool, but totally metal.
The Satanic themes show up in five of the six other songs, most strongly in the short but powerful "Black Funeral," which is not only one of the most straightforward songs, but also one of the most hard-hitting. Also particularly blasphemous is "Into the Coven," which was enough to make this album banned in many places for a while. It starts out with a deceptively sweet solo over upbeat and happy acoustic picking before turning into a dark Mercyful Fate song about a young woman being indoctrinated into Satanism.
The underrated "At The Sound of the Demon Bell" does a fine job of alternating between faster and slower parts and the opening scream of "HALLOWEEN!!!" still sends small chills down my spine. Hank Shermann's solo in the middle is arguably his best on the album. "Melissa" deceptively sounds like a ballad in the beginning but goes into several heavier riffs while building up and ends up being one of the most unique songs on this album and serves as a satisfying conclusion.
The monstrously epic (in length) "Satan's Fall" is really just a collection of leftover ideas thrown together, but there are the foundations of at least four really good songs scattered throughout there. It's still worth listening to even if it is a bit incoherent at times and not as essential as the rest of the material. The most well-known song is "Curse of the Pharaohs," where King Diamond sings a line and then raises his voice two octaves just for the hell of it. His range is something to behold and the guitar-work on this song is excellent as well.
There comes a time in every parent's life when their child will look at them with their wide eyes and innocently ask, "Daddy (or mommy)...where do thrash bands come from?" While it may be obvious to talk about Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and maybe the hardcore punk movement, "Melissa" by Mercyful Fate should be mentioned as well. The inclusion of a handful of riffs per song as well as odd time-signatures and unexpected tempo changes were quite influential in the Bay-area sound. Metallica acknowledged their debt to Mercyful Fate through their medley of Mercyful Fate songs on the "Garage Inc." album (which, while decent, doesn't hold a candle to the originals for many obvious reasons).
Unlike so-called contemporaries Venom, Mercyful Fate's members actually had quite a bit of talent and Melissa holds up far better than Venom's output of the time. The Satanic content may not have quite the same effect now that it did back in the early '80s, but it's much more convincing than at least 95% of evil and Satanic-themed songs that have been released since. Not even Slayer in their glory days were able to match the malevolence of the lyrics found here. "Melissa" stands the test of time quite capably. Not owning this album will get you labeled a false, where you will mostly likely be burned and died; you wouldn't want that, would you?
This borders on the fantastic; the supernatural and superstitious. The want for something to be there, hiding and lingering, for that sense of "awe." Whether in your search, you come out a 'new' you, or written down as a lost soul in one of those obscure books you've seldom heard about. This isn't for the strict and rigid minded, the I'll-see-it-when-I-believe-it type. The scientist that yearns for tangible results, no, or even the everyday skeptics, nah, more like for the wishful that wants to see something unexplained that wasn't there before. Essentially an escape from the mundane, and down that darkening path of transient evil, obscurities and ill-placed omens.
Swinging a cape that never ceases to amaze, wearing the face of a Kabuki mask or something ritually painted along the lines of Arthur Brown meets Kiss without the psychedelics or dark-fun, covered in cow-envying amounts of leather, and setting the stage for theatrics are what the front man of Mercyful Fate brings to the altar. King Diamond places his voice at your disposal, in a taunting, I-told-you-so projection, constantly changing and altering itself, like a shape-shifter gone awry and appearing like amorphous shadows: playful, jumpy and tense, laughing.
The music still has that 70's feel, still somewhat unshaken by the presented 80s. Amongst the guitars, a bass that co-pilots itself as musician-friendly, yet finding and uncovering decidedly worthwhile rhythms. This brings about drumming that has technical feats and worthy chops, filling those gaps like something fiendish was going to get through. This is up on solos like any other group wanting to become the next-generation guitar sensation. But finding a particular hair-raising atmosphere from a selective showmenship. That is one of the most important aspects to create mood in music, and can sometimes be missed with how many more notes you can fit into your belt. I feel there was a straying from the norm when Fate was doing them. Sure they were scaled to perfection, running their fingers possibly over the same areas as the next guy, but finding those particular ones in their case that can bring a song into an elevated atmosphere. The dual guitars come together on Melissa to mostly create an ailment of heaviness, with palm mutes and simplistic chords, giving a justifiable cure of paced fist-pumping and medium-headbangs to circulate the bad-blood coursing through your blackening veins. This is music that isn't boldly aggressive, yet it's embracing like an eye-locking, deadly stare. Some of the rhythms will use higher notes on the fretboard, sometimes having similar techniques to Motorhead and Venom at the time, with unintentional sleazy guitar lines. The title track even has clean guitars in some areas, which almost sounds like an adult-lullaby: heard before bed and is in turn nightmarish or potentially sleep-depraving.
'83 was a good year in metal for big first albums: Dio releasing Holy Diver, Metallica's Kill 'Em All, Slayer's Show No Mercy and here Mercyful Fate's Melissa. It must of gave an aspiring metal-head an early stroke from the earthquaking delivery of these releases. These, for the most part, were placed at a refined enough point that it just seemed natural for them to of come out. The line, 'Oh, that was just something we did back then,' is true and untrue in a sense. Here, Mercyful Fate already had a down-pat style on their first output, and you can logically imagine there being leagues of other bands sounding identical to them. However, they were a creative group of characters, teeming with energy and earning their rite to passage with this release due to a fusing of their old selves from previous bands. They definitely, and most importantly, had an angle and were all-around great musicians that were lined-up to have a following even when this first hit shelves and then record players, possibly over and over again at that point till even now.
Containing an evil—not entirely pinned down as just grim, ominous or vaguely dark; being quite possibly scary with a combination—but encompassing evil in the essence and fibers of the word. Yes, this combines music for the time, they find their mediums with song-writing, not coming completely out of the blue. But this delivers music in a decidedly evil and almost persuasive manner. The kind that pricks blood from the end of your finger, transforms on a full moon, and prefers the odd or jaded features of the universe to impose a ritualistic sense.
Even with all of the musicians playing with different personalities, it is music that still comes together as a whole. Mr. Diamond leads and drives forth fermenting, haunting deliveries overtop of the bottomless pit of your miseries. His voice is so unique that it would be a true document if someone could perfectly describe each qualifying note into exactness; each slip and duck; each build or climax. Although that might miss the point of its hidden mysteries through a wrongful unveiling. He attempts the 'thought' impossible with the possible here. Bringing his voice to high-pitched alternating falsettos, a medium melancholy, a deep tone, in ceremonial chorus-like fashion, and many different alternating factions between, around, and right through to create the event-horizon of vocalizing. To travel to places far and in-between with a story to tell about its foreboding journey into unknown parallels. A true testament of the texture of evil, and how it encompasses the peculiar and tainted.
The music on Melissa can speak volumes. This isn't putting it lightly or exaggerating what instruments can project through speakers. It is channeled in an affective way that embraces the responsiveness of your senses. Its creativity, and ultimately its elusiveness, to pin it down as a single part or dividend is the most important aspect here. Repetitious listens could yield varying results. For longevity's sake, that's probably the most rewarding part that a performer or musician could ask for. The kind of effect that brings an identity and a name to the track, instead of an all-too-similarness.
With opening leads to enchant or build a song, piercing high-noted singing to a tapping of alternating notes, bass that snakes and wraps around guitar plucking, drumming that pounds but doesn't project provoking speeds, produces music that is metal in the sense, to a blackened degree. With an aura that gives it dark emotions and rightful moods. It sets the stage with a thematic presentation and grips the audience with engaging music and concept. The King's voice is going to safely be such a unique quality when first heard, that I can imagine it bringing about different reactions from different people. Probably because the related voice to terror, anger, pain, panic, etc. might be viewed a little differently now with a grisly set-tone or a plain-old scream. However, Diamond was intricately painting his voice instead of using a somewhat blunt graffiti. Which both, when done, can still bring about an expression or a statement that someone wants to convey depending on who and how. Although, here, imagine a sort of metal-opera which would evolve with the band even traveling over to King Diamond's self-titled solo project. This should be looked at as in chapters, turned one at a time with anticipation for the next, while not wanting to excuse yourself between aisles for fear of missing something. Melissa is read at the top of the pamphlet in your hand, and, as a precaution, brace yourself for a sense-riddling show.
Mercyful Fate's debut full-length record, "Melissa" - is the record that every metal record, no matter the genre, wants to be when it grows up. Timeless, complex, venemous, heavy as all hell and contaminated with too much talent for its own good, "Melissa" is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Not only is this one of the greatest metal records of all time, I would consider it one of the greatest records of all time, period - genres not withstanding. Musically, this album delivers all the goods: A gigantic arsenal of sinister riffs revealed in machine gun succession throughout the roller-coaster like compositions (these aren't songs, folks, they're compositions), dueling solos, neo-classical influence throughout, stellar, brutal drum work that features hardly any mindless blasting like so many modern metal bands, vivid, visual and most of all fun lyrics to make the whole thing larger than life, a completley Satanic and demonic presentation, some of the most insane vocal acrobatics this side of Freddie Mercury. But enough mindless raving, let us take a real good look at this record.
First of all, I have to talk about the riffs. Mercyful Fate are noted for their complex song structures - and that is exactly it, MF's songs are intricately structured, but the riffs themselves really are not all that technical. For the most part, it is your standard powerchord fare, only the notes are arranged in a far more complex, intricate fashion to make it sound as mindboggling as early Watchtower. And not only this - but Hank Sherman and Michael Denner have a knack for writing some of the creepiest, most demonic sounding riffs you will ever hear. And not only that, but Sherman and Denner are the greatest guitar duo to ever grace the halls of any kind of metal. Both are two of the most capable guitarists I have ever heard - Sherman having a more structured, melodic, classical soloing style, and Denner being more of the shred-crazy, bluesy balls-to-the-wall type. Their exchanges are breathtaking, and really trailblaze throughout the album, and leave you gasping for breath. Sometimes it is hard to tell when one mans solo ends and the others begins everything happens so fast, but the unique stylistic differences really let you know who is playing what. And their melodic, harmonized passages are extremley beautiful. "Melissa", the song, has one of the most beautiful opening solos ever played - it honestly, truly, sounds, as was mentioned before, as if someone were crying. It is raw emotion channeled through six strings, and always leaves me a bit shaken up from the profound beauty. Speaking of profound intro, check out the classical intro to "Into the Coven" - featuring a haunting, minor key classical melody played on an acoustic guitar underneath a blistering, Ritchie Blackmore-esque solo. "Into the Coven" itself is one of the best songs at the record - relentless, satanic and unreal in execution. Needless to say, you will find some of the best guitar playing you have ever heard on "Melissa", courtesy of Mr. Denner and Mr. Sherman, truly and underrated couple of guitarists if there ever was one.
Also worth mentioning is the bass playing. Unless your Les Claypool or Brian Bromberg, the bass usually takes a back seat within the production of a record, and really never stands out too much from the other instruments, or differentiates from the guitar riffs. On "Melissa", Timi Grabber really holds his own, providing nice counter melodys, and really anchoring the whole thing down with unfaultering solidity. Kudos to you, Mr. Grabber - wherever you are now.
The drumming, like I mentioned before - is top notch. Brutal, stellar, and really ahead of its time - complex time signatures thrown on top of standard metal drumming fare, lightning fast fills and a real signature style that is unmistakably Kim Ruzz. And the real nice thing about the whole thing is that hardly anywhere will you find double-bass pummeling, blasturbation or any of that bullshit which has become so popular within extreme music lately. This is pure skill, talent and finese.
And then there is King Diamond. I could write a book about how the mans voice and his music have effected me and changed my life, and how he has fronted two of my very favorite bands, and is in my opinion on of the greatest vocalist of all times - no matter what genre we are talking about. I could talk about how I admire him for being so ahead of his time and blatant with his lyrics, and how he inspired to observe my life and my philisophical beliefs and quit subscribing to the half-baked, hypocritical bullshit that the masses want us to follow and make up my own mind. But I won't. I will just tell you all that this man is a master vocalist, a master of theatrics, and a master lyricist - and all of this shines on "Melissa". You will never heard vocal acrobatics like these anywhere else within any style of music. Each falsetto shriek he lets out sends chills up and down my spine. The man is a god.
Each and every song on "Melissa" is perfect in every way, but standout cuts, for me, include the neo-classical romp of "Into the Coven", the gut-busting riff-fest that is "Curse of the Pharoahs", the anthemic "Black Funeral", which is quite possibly one of the most evil fucking songs ever recorded, and the tear-jerking epic that is the title track.
If you don't own this album, I pity you. Buy it. This record re-defines the word classic.
Mercyful Fate's debut album is generally considered a classic, a milestone in Metal history. Usually I don't attach much value to terms like that. For example, I don't own any Metallica album because I just don't like them. But that "classic album" label was in this case the reason for me to check out the album. From what I understood, this album was a very influential one for many Thrash and Black Metal bands to come. And since I like a lot of those Thrash bands, I decided to give this album a chance.
Even though the band is not British, Mercyful Fate is from Denmark to be exact, basically what you're getting here is the darker side of NWOBHM. Maybe not as dark as Venom, but that's just because Mercyful Fate consists of musicians that are much more capable than Venom's. That very capable musicianship as well as the dark side of the music is portrayed best in the eleven and a half minute epic 'Satan's Fall', in which there is a whole shitload of killer riffs with every riff being something darker and more powerful than the one before and every part seemingly entering a new layer of hell. 'Satan's Fall' is a good showcase of the pure genius of this band and of the possibilities of Metal in general. Despite its length, the song is over before you even notice it takes that long. Add the guitar solos that are nothing short of amazing to that and that song alone will already be worth the price you'll pay for this album.
However, there's a downside to this band too, and that downside will be remembered by the name of King Diamond. King is a singer you'll either love or despise and I definitely belong to the latter. The "I can do high pitched screams and I will prove that as much as possible"-vocalist is taking his high pitches to the extreme! He gives the word "ear piercing" a whole new meaning, just check out the second part of the aforementioned 'Satan's Fall', the way he screams "home" makes me want to choke him. And at times he's not screaming and attempting to sing, singing off-key is a rule rather than an exception. It's really too bad, because King Diamond has proven over the years, with Mercyful Fate as well as with his solo band, that he knows how to surround himself with stellar musicians and songwriters. Another minus about this album is also from his hand, and I'm talking about the ridiculous "hail Satan"-lyrics. They're very cheesy to say the least!
But luckily the music on this album is amazing enough to largely compensate for that. In fact, apart from closing title track, which starts out promising, with a clean guitar part and an eye-watering guitar solo which left me thinking "oh my god, the guy's not going to sing over this, is he" (he was...), but kind of keeps on dragging towards the end and has some really weak riffs there, 'Melissa' is as close to musical perfection as it gets. And I don't use that term lightly.
Something I often attach a lot of value to is a good opener and 'Melissa' definitely has that in the form of 'Evil'. It's actually a cool thing that the title of your first song on your first album describes your sound so much. The song is a good display of what is to come too, the song contains a lot of great riffs and changes, giving 'Evil' a certain complexity without even getting that complex, which would become Mercyful Fate's trademark on the many albums to come. A lot of the riffs are quite different from each other, but somehow manage to flow over into each other quite well. Many songwriters at the time as well as today should take an example out of this.
The following 'Curse Of The Pharaohs' is a bit simpler and has King Diamond screaming a lot less, but that doesn't by any means mean that it's a weaker song. On the contrary, 'Curse Of The Pharaohs' is probably my favorite track off the album. The riffs in this song are midtempo and very strong and in total, the song is quite catchy. A special note here is that King Diamond isn't half as annoying as in the other tracks on this one. The song has a distinct Black Sabbath-vibe, the intro strongly reminds me of the title track of 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath', but is unmistakably Mercyful Fate, even without the vocals!
'Into The Coven' starts out a bit odd, with a guitar solo over an acoustic guitar prelude in a much different key and atmosphere than the rest of the album. Shortly after it turns into a strong, typical Mercyful Fate song full of great guitar leads and riffs. This is a song that has an atmosphere that just grabs you by the throat, pulls you into the song and doesn't let you go until it's over. Although the guitar solos on the entire album are great, I think the ones in 'Satan's Fall' and 'Into The Coven' stand out a bit more than the rest.
'At The Sound Of The Demon Bell' and 'Black Funeral' are less memorable than the rest of 'Melissa', but not by any means worse than the rest. 'At The Sound Of The Demon Bell' is a bit more progressive when it comes to rhythms and has a really cool riff right before the guitar solo starts and 'Black Funeral' is more of the standard, gallopping NWOBHM stuff. You won't hear me complain about that.
When you're fortunate enough to get your hands on the CD and DVD digipack remaster by Roadrunner Records, like I was, you're getting a couple of nice bonus tracks with it. The first one is a track called 'Black Masses' which, in my humble opinion, should have been on the album. It's a very cool track which definitely outdoes the title track of the album. Then there's a trio of BBC Radio 1 Sessions, 'Curse Of The Pharaohs', 'Evil' and 'Satan's Fall'. Those songs are, together with 'Into The Coven', the best songs on the album and sound even better in this semi-live setting. Semi-live because King Diamond seems to have done some overdubs, as you hear him twice at some points. Definitely worth checking out. Closing the remaster are the demo versions of 'Curse Of The Pharaohs' and 'Black Funeral'. 'Curse Of The Pharaohs' actually had more riffs on that version, but I think the simplified one that eventually ended up on 'Melissa' is the better one and apparently, the band agrees with me on that.
The DVD portion is an average audience recorded video of Mercyful Fate at the Dynamo club in Eindhoven, Holland. Nothing really special at all and King Diamond's boring commentary, which is optional, doesn't save the DVD portion from being a worthless piece of shit. The CD is amazing though!
So here's what you get: a very good, dark Heavy Metal album which will give you some quality listening time, as long as you like King Diamond's vocals or if you can at least tolerate them. Mercyful Fate would never make an album as good as this one again, but it's better to make one near perfect album than never to make a good one at all.
From the howling vocals to the killer riffs and awesome atmosphere, this is the grade-A shit I need. While the songs and the production are not up to par with Don't Break the Oath, this is a classic in it's own right and it needs to be owned by every metalhead.
WHAT? You DON'T own this? Something must be seriously wrong with you. Really, you can't come up with a valid excuse to not have this.
OK, so I must stop the ranting and give the album a description, 'cause that's what reviews are for. Let's see.....this starts with the Fate classic "Evil", one of the greatest songs ever made by this band and the only one on ths album that I feel owns every single tune on The Oath. It is composed by a miriad of riffs and changes on direction that makes you feel the song lasts more than it does, not because it is boring, of course. King's vocals own you. "Curse of the Pharaohs" is more of the same, starting rockish and going straight for the throat in the middle. King's vocals own you. The eerie "Into the Coven" (which I think it was censored in certain countries) is more simple but equally killer in the riff work and I think is the one with the most dark atmosphere of the first four tracks. "Sound of the Demon Bell" it's like Sabbath near Sabotage if Hank Shermann shared the guitar duties with Iommi, got Ozzy kicked out of the band in favor of King and replaced the LSD trip sessions with black masses and blood. Nice work with the arrangements, as always. King's vocals own you.
"Black Funeral" is short and to the point. A friend of mine found the singing to be bad and out of tune, but what the hell does he know. Because we all know that King's vocals own him and you. Yes, I said it three more times already, back off, I'm the one reviewing this. "Satan's Fall" is the long epic of the album featuring everything from NWOBHM-ish guitar work to doomy acoustic passages. A fucking classic in it's own right and well worth to be heard in order to understand Mercyful Fate's skills on the songwriting department. Then the love ballad (I think is about love, in a twisted manner, of course) Melissa starts clean and with a superb emotional guitar solo, then goes to the heavy part and obliterates you in the middle with a nice riff attack.
Of course you need this, read the second paragraph from this review.
King's vocals own you.
Fucking killer album. Get it or die a worthless, pathetic loser.
Too bad I can't leave the review right there, but if I did, that's all you need to know. Back in the VERY early 80s, before genres and demands of 'trueness' or 'brutality' entered the picture, people demanded energy and originality of their metal, and Mercyful Fate was NOT a band that left people disappointed. Their self-titled EP took the underground by storm the year before, bowling people over with a mixture of elements that nobody before or since has ever matched - heavy riffs and amazing solos, adventurous song structures that owe as much to traditional metal as to classic hard-rock (i.e. Rainbow, Deep Purple, etc.), sinister, truly evil lyrics COMPLETELY obsessed with satanism and the occult, and those ever-famous operatic, almost theatrical vocals of King Diamond. The problem with the EP was that it was on a tiny label and very few people actually got to hear it. Someone at Roadrunner did, though, and they wasted no time in signing the group, who themselves wasted no time getting into the studio and recording their debut full-length, Melissa.
The opening song, "Evil", sets the stage for the whole album - It's a whirlwind of mood-tempo changes that manages to stay coherent and focused, based around a core of several great riffs, capped off with some seriously scary, blasphemous vocals and two great, even more scary solo sections. And so on. "Curse of the Pharaohs", "Into the Coven", "At the Sound of the Demon Bell", etc. - you'd almost think Hank Shermann was the man who signed the pact with the devil, because he keeps up an endless stream of tight, aggressive riffing throughout, and his talent for song arrangements keeps you constantly wondering where they're going next. There are only two gripes I have with this album: First, what the hell is up with "Satan's Fall"? Most people see it as an eleven-minute masterpiece of epic proportions; however, for once I think Hank Shermann took the arrangements a bit too far - too many of the changes are just the band stopping while one guitar plays the next riff, then playing on that for a couple of minutes before stopping while one guitar plays the next riff... it comes off as a collection of great riffs rather than an epic song (though it does have an excellent acoustic/clean electric solo section near the end, and the riffs themselves are good - the arrangement is just uncharacteristically amateurish). Second is the production. It's clean, but far too dry - the guitars don't have nearly as much bite as on the previous EP or on the next album, and that limp sound really sapped the energy out of some of these songs (for comparison, compare the versions of "Evil", "Curse...", and "Satan's Fall" here to the live versions on The Beginning, or compare this recording of "Black Funeral" with the version on the Metallic Storm compilation). Still, neither of those gripes undermine the fact that Melissa is a landmark album in the realm of extreme metal, and if it's not in your collection then your collection isn't worth all that much...
(Originally published at LARM (c) 1999)